When I was in high school, I learned about this practice of many evangelical Christians called quiet times. Quiet times didn’t only involve an absence of distracting noise, but also a Bible and a journal and maybe a book about something spiritual. I read through the New Testament during my quiet times one summer. I wrote down my prayers and filled a bookshelf with those pleas and confessions in one spiral bound notebook after another. I learned a lot about God, I soaked in a lot of Scripture, and I grew as a Christian.
I don’t mean to imply that I did this every single day for years, but a methodical and disciplined walk through the Bible, with some time for prayer and reflection built in, did become a part of most of my days.
Then I had children, and what had been a life-giving regular practice became first a task, and then an area of failure. First, I was tired. Not just one morning, but every morning. For years. Second, I was often feeling somewhat angry with God for my situation. My prayers for William to sleep longer at night went unanswered. My prayers for patience and endurance also seemed ignored. And I wondered if my life had any meaning as I faced the tasks of cleaning bodily fluids, rocking a fussy baby, and managing an onslaught of laundry. Third, even when I wasn’t exhausted or angry, my kids don’t believe in quiet. They believe in noise and interruptions. On the odd morning that I would set my alarm earlier than their usual time to awaken, they simply woke up along with me. They were loud. And they interrupted often.
So I abandoned the idea of a daily, set aside, sit-by-myself, quiet time.
My faith grew.
The problem with quiet times as I knew them was that they made no room for my ordinary life as a parent. They made no room for my children. (There are other potential problems with quiet times too—for the person who doesn’t have the same personality I have they can seem oppressive and impossible, for the person who is inclined toward individualism and independence and prefers time alone to time with other people they can be an excuse not to love and serve others, for the person inclined to see God’s work as only personal and not global, they can lull us into keeping God in a small box. But I’m not going to get into those problems in this post.) In denying my ordinary life as a parent, I was denying God’s desire and willingness to enter into that very ordinary life. I didn’t need special times of journaling and prayer and Scripture reading that were set apart from the messiness of three small children. Rather, I needed God to be with me in that mess.
I still try to read the Bible and pray in the morning. On the weekends, I even take out my journal. But the morning time during the week—when my husband and I are responsible for getting the kids out the door with lunches and backpacks and clean bodies and warm clothes and brushed teeth and hair—it looks more disorderly. Some days, I sit at the dining room table and read Scripture, but I try to welcome the interruptions. I invite my kids to pray with me. I tell them about the stories I’m reading. Sometimes I lay the Bible to the side and snuggle with them on the couch and read a picture book.
Other days, I don’t open my personal Bible at all. Rather, I read to the kids from The Jesus Storybook Bible and try to answer their questions: How do we know that the stories in the Bible are true? Is sin real? Does Jesus live in my heart or in heaven? And some mornings, nothing overtly spiritual happens at all. No explicit prayer. No Bible reading. No overt reference to God. These days might be the most important reminders of all that God is present not because we behave properly, not because we pray and read the Bible, but rather because God loves us and wants to be with us wherever we go.
I suspect a season will come in the future when I return to that regular and more disciplined time of quiet with God each morning. But for now, I am grateful that my children disrupted that time and reformed it into an opportunity to know God as the God of our everyday lives, who enters into the mess whether I am faithful or not.